Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810--91) was the greatest showman this country has ever produced. Not only did he define American popular culture of the 19th century, exploiting our natural fascination with freaks and oddities, Barnum also shaped the promotion of entertainment with his unique understanding of the American psyche. In this lavishly illustrated volume, the Kunhardts (whose companion TV documentary will air on the Discovery Channel in October) present Barnum's long career, which began when he was 12, selling lottery tickets in his hometown of Danbury, Conn. Moving to New York City at age 15, he worked at a variety of jobs until he hit upon his first great hoax: Joice Heth, the black slave who Barnum claimed was 161 years old and George Washington's former nurse. With her, Barnum made the great discovery that Americans love a good humbug, a premise from which he launched his career, promoting such memorable entertainers as Jenny Lind, ""The Swedish Nightingale""; General Tom Thumb; and the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. Barnum fascinated generations of Americans. This book is likely to create a whole new crop of adoring fans.